By JAMES BARRON
May 20th, 2011
The New York Times
Nathan Sawaya did Patience first, just as the other guy did. You know, Edward Clark Potter, the sculptor who did the lions in front of the New York Public Library, on Fifth Avenue at 42nd Street.
Mr. Sawaya is the artist commissioned to make copies of the lions, which have been lionized — sorry, we typed that word without thinking and groaned as loudly as you did — ever since they took their places 100 years ago. The anniversary of their dedication is Monday.
He has copied other landmarks, including the Statue of Liberty, the Brooklyn Bridge, the Washington Monument and the United States Capitol. He has also done a giant BlackBerry smartphone and a 77-inch-tall sculpture called “Red-Headed Man” that looks like Conan O’Brien.
Mr. Sawaya’s medium is Lego blocks. “Some artists use paint, others use bronze,” he said by way of explanation. He said he had more than 1.5 million Lego “bricks” in his studio on Lexington Avenue and “another few million” in a storage center outside the city, “just in case.”
The lions reduced Mr. Sawaya’s inventory by 60,000. The color is “just a standard gray,” he said.
“This was a special challenge,” he said. “The lions are so iconic. Everyone who lives in the city has walked past those lions at some point, so there’s this challenge of doing them justice.
“If I’m creating a free-form piece of art, I can make it look like anything I want and nobody will say it’s wrong. But here, I have to make sure it looks right. There was definitely some pressure there.”
The lions are Patience on the downtown side of the library’s front steps and Fortitude on the uptown side. The library says Potter made Patience first, in clay. Then he created Fortitude. Then the lions were carved out of marble at the Piccirilli Studio in the Bronx.
“When he was doing the originals, it was a different type of sculpting,” Mr. Sawaya said. “It was subtractive. He started with stone and chipped away until he had the lions. What I was doing was additive, taking small pieces of plastic and adding until I got something that looked like lions.”
Potter delivered larger-than-life lions.
“Mine are 5 feet 2 1/2 inches long, exactly half the size” of the marble originals, Mr. Sawaya said. “I thought if I went for a full-size scale, I wouldn’t make the deadline. Plus, they have to get through my studio door. They weren’t going to make it if they were full size.”
Unlike Potter, Mr. Sawaya did not bring in a lion tamer as a consultant.